Change resides within us. We are protoplasm in constant change. And yet simply meditating on the word we often have mixed feelings–a child growing taller, a baby learning to walk, a college student finally passing that worrisome class, a new job, a new house, marriage–change, a moving forward. But the other side of the change-coin can be connected to loss. Change doesn’t always have to be about death, but it is about the need for adjustment, for possibly “seeing” our lives in a light not as bright and exciting as youth, but possibly a softer, calmer light. But we are all constantly, though at different rates, making change.
As a young reader, in my tweens, my mother suggested that I read a book by Jan Struther, an English author. The book, MRS MINIVER, began as a series of columns published in THE TIMES London, which were later collected into a book. Many of you will recognize its title because of a film of the same name released in 1942 in the middle of World War II and the Battle of Britain. I liked the film, found it moving as it portrays how an English family faces change during the war, including their experience of Dunkirk.
But I loved the book. And many autumns I went to the shelf in the Walker Branch Library in Chicago, where I knew I would find it–it’s tangerine cover always waiting for me, as if no one else ever checked out this book.
The following quote gives you a taste of what I was drawn to:
“Mrs. Miniver suddenly understood why she was enjoying the forties so much better than she had enjoyed the thirties: it was the difference between August and October, between the heaviness of late summer and the sparkle of early autumn, between the ending of an old phase and the beginning of a fresh one.”
That section went on to praise autumn as the beginning of the year. Many of you might feel as Mrs. Miniver and I do–that autumn IS the beginning. As a teacher and as a student, the ability to wear sweaters, have a pile of freshly purchased notebooks in my arms and to walk through leaves that crunched under my feet into halls of learning–was the beginning. Not January 1st.
I know it was unusual for my young self to be so interested in the thoughts of the main character who really was Jan Struther, an English woman living and writing about a life so totally different from my own. Here is another quote from her book:
“It’s as important to marry the right life as it is the right person.”
Certainly, that idea lodged in my unconscious too, as I was determined that my high school sweetheart, who I have been happily married to for 45 years, and I would see before us a shared life. And as as we dated we talked about what that life would look like, we planned.
In rereading sections of Mrs. Miniver after so many years, I find some of my own mid-life thoughts. Maybe that’s because I have arrived at an experience of life similar to the place she inhabited when she wrote the book. Life is change. Mid-life worries reside in my character Emily in my short story, MAKING CHANGE. Emily relates:
“The Medical Center was hyper with people, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, others being rolled back and forth on gurneys by attendants in bright green scrubs. I watched them going in and out of an elevator that I knew could suck me up into the center of the building and hide me away in some surgical suite. I thought about how warm the dishwater would feel if I were home cleaning up. I imagined the invigorating whip of wet wind that would surround me as I raked leaves in the rain. But I sat.
For a while I tried to trick my mind, pretend I was younger and pregnant, waiting for a checkup. But the game was just that. Going to the doctor’s had meant reading maternity magazines in the waiting area and then getting the news in a pink or blue examining room that my weight was good and the baby was developing nicely. Now the magazines I picked up advised about sunscreen to prevent skin cancers, diets and exercise to ward off weight gain and its companion, diabetes…”
But after a meeting with an old friend who is struggling in ways that Emily never foresaw, Emily makes a promise to herself, to embrace her life. After a phone call with her husband, she reflects. “We talked. We shared words of love for one another—easily and openly. When we hung up, I found my mind singing Why me Why me—an invigorating question, not a complaining one. Why me to be so lucky to have all that I did have? Why me to now be eager for the future, no matter what it brought?”
Jan Struther wrote that though she enjoyed holidays, she was always relieved when they were over. She writes that the feeling was perhaps: “…the measure of Mrs. Miniver’s peculiar happiness—…Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back.”
I love that–the belief in the framework of one’s life. It does go back to accepting and balancing the concept of change. When autumn comes and the leaves fall and the pumpkins go on the porch or firewood is ordered–there is change, but familiar change, the very steady tick and tock of life, comforting and reassuring.
We must embrace it and honor it. And we must do what we can to help others who experience massive change that tears at the heart and soul of their normal living–helping with and accepting the illness of a loved one; being there for a friend who is recently divorced or has lost their home. However life proceeds, change will be part of it. Being able to go with the flow, to find a “measure of peculiar happiness” to be “eager for the future no matter what it brought” will see us through today and into tomorrow. Happy Autumn.
To read all of MAKING CHANGE, check out my collection of stories: A Mother’s Time Capsule. Available here.
Photos, thanks to: Ciao Newport Beach www.opiekunki.aterima.pl